Woody Woodpecker was a brash, high-strung woodpecker whose trademark was his staccato laugh, "ha-ha-ha-HA-ha". The character first appeared in the 1940 Andy Panda short, Knock Knock, voiced by Mel Blanc.
When Blanc signed an exclusive contract with Warner Brothers, he was replaced by the man who originally designed Woody, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, a former Schlesinger Studios animation director who had helped develop Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. Woody received a permanent voice in 1952, when Lantz's wife, actress Grace Stafford, anonymously auditioned for and was awarded the job.
The theatrical cartoon business was losing money in the 1950's. By 1956 there were only seven animation producers in the short-subjects business, and by the end of the decade that number would dwindle down to three. Movie theater owners were finding that they could release features with reissued cartoons, or no cartoons at all, and the audiences would still come.
Walter Lantz and his distributor, Universal Pictures, knew that the only way to subsidize the rising costs of new shorts was to release their product to television. Norman Gluck from Universal's short-subjects department made a deal with the Leo Burnett Agency to release some older Lantz product on television. Burnett handled the Kellogg's cereal account, and Lantz soon met with the Kellogg's people to sign the contract.
Lantz complied his best films into a half-hour TV show which he hosted himself. Additional live action & animation segments were created, such as "Woody's Newsreel" and "Around The World with Woody". 30-minute animated escapades of the world-famous woodpecker and other Walter Lantz character, including Andy Panda and Chilly Willy. Host-producer Lantz intergrated new footage with his theatrical cartoons and appeared with informative looks at the animation process.
The Woody Woodpecker Show originally ran on the ABC-TV network from October 3, 1957 through September 25, 1958. Sponsored by Kellogg's, each episode featured three theatrical cartoons, with new animated Woody wraparounds and live action hosting chores handled by Lantz himself. The live-action segments were directed by Jack Hannah. Hannah was fresh from the Disney Studio where he had done similar live-action/animation sequences for the Disney show. Woody also appeared in animated commercials for Kellogg's. The series was seen once a week, on Thursday afternoons, replacing the first half hour of the shortened Mickey Mouse Club.